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Home to many gold rush era structures and buildings that are now preserved as part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, the small town of Skagway, Alaska, is located in the southeast region of the state – right next to the Inside Passage you’ll sail through on an Alaska cruise. The White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad runs through the mountains north toward Canada, and you’ll likely see vintage locomotives chugging along the steep Chilkoot trail next to town.
Famous for its mining past and as a favorite stop for today’s tourists, Skagway is also part of the setting for the books The Call of the Wild by Jack London, Jason’s Gold by Will Hobbs, and Guardian by Joe Haldeman. Additionally, the John Wayne film “North to Alaska” was filmed close by.
Whether you prefer an organized excursion into town or out in nature, or you’d rather explore on your own, there is plenty to see and do on a cruise to Skagway. While you may encounter a warm day here and there, summers in Skagway are typically cool, while winters are long and very cold. The temperatures in the area typically range from 18 to 61 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year. The best time for tourists to take a Skagway cruise, according to the town’s tourism score, is from early July to early August, as this is when the temperatures are the mildest.
On clear days, this is your best chance at seeing the most of Skagway and the surrounding Alaskan natural beauty. The White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad was built into the rugged terrain around 120 years ago and follows the Trail of ’98, by which the steady incoming stream of gold prospectors arrived into town looking for Yukon gold. Those exhausted prospectors arrived on foot, walking the wet, muddy trail, often in freezing temperatures. Your ride will be much more comfortable in climate-controlled, old-fashioned rail cars that will take you gently but swiftly through tunnels and over sky-high trestles, all the way up to the 2,865-foot summit of the White Pass. You’ll pass the trail highlight spots, such as Bridal Veil Falls, Inspiration Point, and Dead Horse Gulch – named for the many miners who lost horses in this spot.
The famous Gold Rush of 1898 put Skagway on the map, and many of the lives lost during this historically chaotic time are memorialized in the Gold Rush Cemetery. At the end of town, after you cross the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad tracks, you’ll find the cemetery down a short path. After your visit to the cemetery, walk a bit further to the base of Reid Falls where you can stand and wave to the train passengers making their way up the White Pass and Yukon Route tracks.
The building that houses the old Red Onion Brothel offers a tour of the house of ill-repute, led by one of the brothel’s “madams” who will regale you with stories of olden times. When the brothel was closed down, the town transformed the building into the town dance hall bordello for a time. Now, the Red Onion is a bar and grill, serving some of the most delicious food in town.
You’ll find equally diverse and fascinating history and culture at both the Skagway Town Museum and the Sculpture Garden right next door. At the museum, learn about the history of Skagway during the gold rush era, with particular emphasis on the town’s local con man Soapy Smith. Next door, stroll through the Sculpture Garden to see nearly 50 different sculptures created by the town’s local and regional artists.
Hop on a bus to take the 40-minute drive to Skagway’s biggest competition during the gold rush era – the nearby ghost town of Dyea, which is now the site of a dog musher’s camp nestled within the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. When you arrive in Dyea, you’ll board a Unimog (an all-terrain vehicle) for an exhilarating ride up a mountain road to the site where the mushers keep their sled dogs. Get ready for the ride of a lifetime as you have a seat on your assigned special-wheeled summertime sled. Hold on as a team of eager, friendly huskies pull you down a mile-long trail full of twists and turns through the crisp mountain air. Your guide and musher will give you time to meet and pet your sled dog team, provide you with plenty of information on the history of the sport of mushing and sled-dog racing, and even snap a few photos of you and your team as you race along the mountainside.
After a running start, launch yourself into flight and soar over the canopy of treetops in the Alaskan temperate rainforest on the Grizzly Falls Ziplining Expedition. You won’t have to worry about braking because your guides will handle that for you, letting you just enjoy the ride. Feel the mist as you zoom past glacial waterfalls and through lush green forests, reaching speeds of up to 30 miles per hour. This expedition takes you through a course of 11 ziplines – one of which stretches for 750 feet – with stops for short breaks and to take in the stunning scenery around you at each of the four state-of-the-art suspension bridges. Plus, you’ll get more than just ziplining on this 4-hour expedition since you’ll make your way up and down the mountain before and after you go ziplining on an all-terrain, all-wheel-drive vehicle called a Unimog.
You’ll know exactly why Ocean Raft Adventure is one of the most sought-after expeditions in Skagway once you see the jaw-dropping photos from this adrenaline-pumping adventure. You’ll hop aboard a boat of the same class used by the US Navy Seals and Coast Guard Rescue teams and head out into the rugged beauty of Lynn Canal – the longest and deepest fjord in North America. Your Coast Guard-certified captain and tour guide will steer you through the racing waters, by crashing waterfalls, and around hidden coves on an exciting ride through the fjord. Along the way, you’ll make multiple stops for photo opportunities and wildlife spotting, during which you’re likely to see sea lions, seals, whales, and bald eagles. Your trustworthy guide will use his expertise to take you along the best route based on weather conditions and seasonal wildlife watching cycles.
During the Golden Glassblowing Experience, you’ll stroll through the Gift Gallery and the garden where a diverse selection of plants and whimsical glass blown installations are on display. Each piece of magnificent glass was created on site by the artisans of Skagway’s Garden City Glassworks.
Enjoy a friendly game of disc golf at the Seven Pastures course. Whereas courses on the mainland use chain baskets, this course is unique because each hole on the course is an overturned keg on a post.
Red Onion Saloon
With delicious food, great cocktails, and a large selection of local Alaskan-brewed beers, this is your one-stop shop for a cold brew and a snack of pizza, soups, salads, sandwiches, and more.
The Station Bar & Grill
Open all year and a special favorite of the locals, the Station Bar & Grill serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner with daily specials from an eclectic menu that will delight any palate and any appetite. You’ll find yourself immersed in a fun, friendly ambiance filled with outgoing locals who will be pleased to recommend their favorite dishes and tell you a story or two about the area. Try its famous Homemade Fish & Chips platter.
Soak up a little bit of history when you sit and sip a brew in the Skagway Brewing Company. Founded in 1897 for Gold Rush prospectors who needed a place to stop and hydrate, this is still a favorite watering hole serving unfiltered ales and delicious pub dishes for locals and travelers passing through.
Lemon Rose Bakery
The Lemon Rose Bakery is a great place in town to find fresh bread as well as muffins, cookies, cinnamon rolls, pastries, sandwiches, and fresh coffee.
Smaller and less densely populated than Juneau and Ketchikan, Skagway is the final Inside Passage port town on most northbound Alaska cruise itineraries. The town is relatively isolated and still appears in many ways as a frontier-era town, giving Skagway its lure for tourists and visitors from all over the globe. It’s one of the few southeastern Alaska towns that can be reached by road, making it one of the best Inside Passage cruise destinations for accessing the interior of the Last Frontier.
Once you disembark from your ship, catch one of the many shuttles that run from the ports to downtown, or simply walk toward town – the only buildings in sight. It won’t take long before you find yourself among buildings that still resemble a town from the turn of the 19th century.
Make your way first to the Visitor Information Center where you’ll find plenty of activity ideas and town maps. A popular shore excursion is to embark on a train tour of the Yukon Territory and surrounding area of Skagway. Also note the White Pass Railway Depot near the Visitor Information Center that still looks like a 19th century railcar depot; with several locomotive departures all throughout the day, you can’t miss it!
Also at the Visitor Center, you’ll find information and maps for local hiking trails that start just outside of downtown Skagway. These trails are an amazing way to immerse yourself in the beauty of Alaska’s rugged nature without leaving the proximity of town. For a short roundtrip hike on a well-beaten path, cross the town bridge toward Yakutania Point, where you’ll find stunning views overlooking Lynn Canal. If you have a few hours to spend with nature, try the trails in Upper Dewey Lake.
There are two port docks in the town of Skagway for cruises – one is directly south of the town along the Lynn Canal, and the other is about a 5-minute walk from town at the foot of Main Street. Typically, the larger cruise ships dock in the canal and the smaller ships will dock in the port in town.
The Port of Skagway is North America’s northernmost, ice-free deep-water port and offers the most cost-effective shipping route north and south between the Yukon Territory, Northwest Territories, Europe, Asia, and Alaska.
Local transportation can be found through the Skagway Municipal and Regional Transit (SMART Bus)
The SMART bus runs from May 1 to October 1 with daily service from 7 am to 9 pm
Wheelchair lift-equipped buses are available in town.
You’ll find ample places to shop in the town of Skagway. Simply stroll down the main street in town and you’ll see locally-owned stores and small boutiques selling warm outerwear, unique Alaskan handcrafted treasures, jewelry, and more. A few favorites include the Aurora Yarns of Alaska, Klothes Rush and Duff’s Backcountry Outfitters.
Currency in Skagway, and all of Alaska, is the U.S. dollar (USD). You’ll find an ATM at the Wells Fargo Bank at 6th and Broadway. Tipping for service at restaurants and bars as well as other service-oriented businesses is customary in Alaska.
To explore further into Alaska and the Canadian Rockies, you can extend your cruise with a Cruisetour. This allows you to travel inland via motorcoach and railway exploring Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska, Talkeetna, Girdwood (Alyeska) and Denali National Park, taking in the views of the highest mountain peak in North America. Cruisetours include the finest hotel accommodations, a local dedicated Alaskan/Canadian Tour Director, luxury transportation, and some activities.